WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Federal Aviation Administration’s acting administrator today acknowledged that pilots of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes were “absolutely” not given adequate training on the plane’s software system before the new jet was permitted to fly.
Daniel Elwell’s comments were made during questioning from Rep. Greg Stanton during today’s Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee hearing.
The Committee’s ongoing investigation focused on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the integrity of its flight control system, and its certification by the Federal Aviation Administration following two recent fatal commercial airline accidents within a span of five months. The crashes of Lion Air flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March 2019 killed nearly 350 passengers.
Prior to the hearing, Stanton spoke with Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya Stumo was killed with the other passengers on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight.
Based on preliminary reports for the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, a contributing factor was erroneous angle-of-attack sensor data that triggered a new and widely unknown feature on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft: the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS.
Stanton addressed the issue to Acting Administrator Elwell and asked, “You’re a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, combat pilot during Operation Desert Storm, commercial pilot for 16 years with a combined 6000 flight hours—do you think the FAA should have mandated training for the MCAS system for pilots knowing what we know now?”
Elwell paused and responded, “At the beginning, when I first heard this—I thought that the MCAS should have been more adequately explained in the ops manual and the flight manual, absolutely.”
Earlier, in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Elwell deferred to the FAA’s Flight Standards Board, which did not mandate simulator training.
In his opening comments Stanton stated, “Based on preliminary reports, a single point of failure appears to have played a role in these tragedies.” Elwell’s response reinforced this finding.
“I look forward to working with Rep. Stanton and the FAA to address the FAA’s role in the development of associated pilot training for the 737 MAX, including opportunities for input from pilots and engagement with Boeing on the related flight manuals,” said Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (WA-02). “I appreciate Rep. Stanton’s commitment to ensuring the U.S. remains the safest aerospace system in the world.”
The Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is currently grounded worldwide, and several federal and international investigations are ongoing and reviewing the aircraft and its safety, the FAA’s decision-making and approval of the aircraft, pilot training requirements and other related issues.
The FAA will need to perform the necessary review and analysis on the aircraft and Boeing’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) software change before the 737 MAX is permitted to return to service in U.S. airspace.
National Transportation Safety Board Chair Robert L. Sumwalt also testified today before the Committee.
Background of Committee’s Ongoing Boeing 737 MAX Investigation
On March 19, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen requested the Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG) assess the FAA’s approach to certifying the Boeing 737 MAX. The Committee’s oversight and investigations team is currently working with the FAA and Boeing on the records requests from the two chairs on the certification of the 737 MAX.
The Committee sent a separate, bipartisan DOT IG request to evaluate aircraft cockpit automation and international pilot training standards.
Following a request from the chairs for a third-party review of the certification of Boeing’s anticipated 737 MAX software update and related training, the FAA established a Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) and a Technical Advisory Board (TAB).
The JATR’s independent review will ensure thorough oversight of the process and rebuild public confidence that the United States is the global standard in aviation safety. Additionally, the TAB, composed of the U.S. Air Force, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and NASA, will provide an independent review of the proposed software change and integration into the MAX flight control system.
Video of Stanton’s comments and questions during the hearing is available here.